Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish provocateur who loves to pick fights with the climate movement, argues in the New York Times this week that what people in developing nations -- or as he called them, “the poor” -- really want is cheap, dirty, fossil fuels to help them reach prosperity. Poor folks, he says, could get rich off of coal if the West would just get out the way. It's part of an ongoing conversation that has stymied international climate talks, about how wealthy countries have gotten rich on fossil fuels, and now want poor countries to help clean up the mess.
Lomborg uses South Africa as his test:
The last time the World Bank agreed to help finance construction of a coal-fired power plant, in South Africa in 2010, the United States abstained from a vote approving the deal. The Obama administration expressed concerns that the project would “produce significant greenhouse gas emissions.” But as South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, explained at the time in The Washington Post, “To sustain the growth rates we need to create jobs, we have no choice but to build new generating capacity — relying on what, for now, remains our most abundant and affordable energy source: coal.”
We’ll put aside the fact that the last time, or rather the first time the Dutch came up with a prosperity scheme for Africa it involved a vicious slave trade that put the continent on a path to poverty it’s yet to fully recover from. Africans, not Lomborg, are the people to determine what Africans need. And while Gordhan, speaking for finance, may have said his country needed coal in 2010, the following year during the COP 17 climate negotiations in Durban, faith leaders came together declaring that [PDF] “South Africa must stand with Africa -- not big polluters."